'Divine vengeance will befall Saudi rulers' - Iran
The leader of Iran warned Saudi Arabia yesterday of "divine vengeance" following its execution of a prominent Shia cleric and 46 others as protests erupted across the Middle East.
Washington called on the region's two primary powers to avoid heightening tensions as demonstrators protesting against the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr broke into the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran and set it ablaze. Saudi Arabia said it was suspending diplomatic relations with Iran in the wake of the attack on the embassy.
The incident was condemned by the Iranian authorities but an escalating war of words between Tehran and Riyadh underlined how the mass executions had opened a rancorous new chapter in the ongoing struggle between Islam's Shia and Sunni sects.
Among the others executed was Adel al-Dhubaiti, who was convicted of the 2004 murder of Co Meath cameraman Simon Cumbers (36) in Riyadh as he worked on a story about al-Qa'ida with the BBC.
His family has spoken in the past about their "mixed feelings" about al-Dhubaiti being sentenced to death. His mother Bronagh has previously said: "I don't want to see anybody dying."
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Shia-dominated Iran, lambasted Saudi Arabia for a second day, describing Sheikh Nimr as an "oppressed martyr" and predicted that "divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians".
In Riyadh, the foreign ministry said that by condemning the execution, Iran was supporting terrorism.
The recriminations also spread beyond the two lead antagonists in the Muslim world's Shia-Sunni split. In Lebanon, the leader of Hezbollah, which has been fighting on the side of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad against Sunni insurgents in the country's civil war, said the death of Sheikh Nimr was a "message of blood".
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused Riyadh of seeking to spread sectarianism. Referring to Saudi Arabia's ruling family, the Shia group's leader said: "Al-Saud wants Sunni-Shia strife. They are the ones who ignited it, and are doing so in every part of the world."
As well as in Tehran, crowds of protesters gathered outside the Saudi embassy in the Lebanese capital of Beirut while demonstrations took place in Bahrain, Turkey, Pakistan and northern India.
In Sunni-ruled Bahrain, police fired birdshot and used water cannon to disperse demonstrators who had been chanting the name of Sheikh Nimr as "our martyr".
The cleric was an outspoken critic of his country's Sunni monarchy and was widely seen as a leader of younger Shia activists both in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Sheikh Nimr's execution also sparked protests in his native Qatif region in eastern Saudi Arabia.
The sheikh's brother said he had been told he would not be receiving his body because the cleric had already been buried in an unnamed cemetery.
The execution is likely to complicate Saudi Arabia's relationship with the Shia-led government in neighbouring Iraq, where the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is facing calls to close the Saudi diplomatic mission.